NOTE: This article was originally written for Parallel.cymru, who have kindly offered to share it. To read this article there, please follow this link. To read this article in Welsh, please click here
Sometimes, as learners we can think it is difficult to contribute to the Welsh-speaking world. Here, Neil Rowlands and contributors to the digital magazine parallel.cymru speak about their work and give tips and advice.
The six of us- Neil, Dani, Nicky, Patrick, Peter & Sam will speak about this in the National Eisteddfod this year:
Saturday 04/08, 15:10 at “Shw’mae Caerdydd” (Pierhead Building); free entry.
Croeso cynnes i gyd! A warm welcome to all!
Local community member and Welsh Learner of the Year 2017 finalist.
How can Welsh learners contribute to Welsh-speaking life? – In any possible way as people who contribute to life in communities.
How can Welsh learners contribute to Welsh-speaking life? – In any possible way as people who contribute to life in communities.
A great example is Siân, a friend from my Welsh class, who works as a physiotherarpist in Ysbyty Alltwen in Porthmadog. She started learning Welsh because she – being Welsh – wanted to speak the language of her country and treat patients in their language. In her work she goes to the patients’ homes, in the area around Porthmadog, Beddgelert and Blaenau Ffestiniog – a very Welsh speaking area. To make patients feel more comfortable it is important to speak their first language with them. Siân’s patients appreciate this a lot. And as a little bonus Siân learns a lot about the language of the area. She already speaks the “native language”.
And myself, I speak Welsh in any possible context – with colleagues at work and of course in my spare time. It was a great priviledge and pleasure to be part of the Eisteddfod Choir in Anglesey in 2017 – a mostly Welsh-speaking choir. Some people in the choir knew me, but I didn’t mention to the others that I am a Welsh learner – I just spoke Welsh to them from the very beginning. Maybe the choir members suspected that I was not a first language speaker.
What a surprise it was to them when I reached the final of Welsh Learner of the Year 2017 – another priviledge and pleasure, by the way. It really opened their eyes, realising how important it is to include learners in Welsh-speaking events and to speak Welsh with learners. So in a way, this contributed to the way they see Welsh learners now.
Let me give you one little advice: Don’t say that you are a learner – what ever your level. Pretend! People will notice when you are speaking. But by not saying the word “learner” the conversation start more natural. And once you’ve started in Welsh, it will be difficult to change the language. And there you are!
Learning any language bring rewards, challenges and opportunities. For myself, learning Welsh over the last five years has opened to the door to meeting hundreds of new people, develop friendships and has opened the door to Welsh culture and its institutions.
However, it has not always been a linear and straightforward journey. I started going to speaking groups and social events in Tŷ Tawe six months after starting classes, and barely understood a word! However, not having Welsh speakers in my family, office or many existing friends, I knew that I had to be hearing Welsh in the real world. Of course, the community in Swansea was very encouraging and welcoming. Over time I began understanding more, and then began small contributions to conversations; now feel that when I meet someone new I don’t need to identify myself with the term learner.
Two years ago I decided that I wanted to integrate Welsh into my life, so I applied for some jobs where Welsh language abilities was a requirement. In the second of those interviews I was asked the question: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, but I didn’t understand the words cryfderau and gwendidau. I asked the panel member to repeat the question, but I still didn’t understand, so had to ask for the question in English! I felt a right wally! However the process of writing the application in Welsh and spending time preparing for the interview gave me hours of contact time, and the feeling that I had stood on my own feet to submitted an ambitious application through a language that I was still learning gave me a tremendous boost.
In autumn 2017 I realised that I was in a catch-22 situation- I wanted to integrate Welsh into my life, but was in a job where there were no opportunities to do that. A lack of experience of delivering Welsh-medium services would always put me at a disadvantage compared to other applicants, whatever my standard of Welsh.
I realised that I had weekends and evenings to use, and that I didn’t need to find a job or funding to do something – I could just start something myself. I’m familiar with building websites and telling people about them, and I was aware that parallel reading is used in other European language pairs but not English-Welsh, so I spent a couple of weeks chucking something together, asked some friends to contribute some content, told some more people about it, who seemed to like it, so I iterated and then went live a couple of weeks after that.
There are incredible opportunites for people to deliver services through the medium of Welsh which don’t currently exist; government funding and vision only goes so far, and it is up to the community to innovate and try new things from the ground up.
The ideal project is to combine something that you know how to do with something that you are have an interest in. I knew how to make and publicise websites, and had an interest in making Welsh accessible.
I’ve also received a lot of support behind the scenes; some very kind people have granted their time to improve the standard of content on parallel.cymru, such as Elgan Davies-Jones, David Sutton and Patrick Jemmer (note- if there are any language errors on parallel.cymru then I’m responsible, not them). It’s wonderful to see people such as Dani, Huw Rowlands, Nicky and Peter use their time freely to share their skills and experience through what they do.
The digital world has removed barriers – if you have an idea for something that is missing from the Welsh-speaking world, why not fill it yourself?
Almost two years ago, I was in France with what felt like everyone else from Wales, supporting our nation competing against the best teams in Europe for the first time in my life.
I had a chance meeting with a guy who asked me if I needed any help taking my pints back to my seat. I did not know at the moment, but that guy had a huge impact on my life.
I came home from the Euros with much less money and a bit more weigh, but I knew something had changed in my head. I was going to learn the language of my country, sing the anthem and understand what I had been singing since the first time I watched Wales play in 1990.
Originally from the Rhondda Valley, from a very small town called Edmondstown. When I grew up in the Valleys, I didn’t hear the Welsh language until I went on holiday in West Wales with my family. There was no Welsh-medium secondary school when I grew up – and English-speaking schools in the 80s had a lot more to do to inspire anyone to learn the language.
Just a couple of weeks before Christmas 2016, I went to search Google for ‘How to learn Welsh quickly’ and went to the Say Something in Welsh program. I started to do that, doing one or two lessons a day. After two and a half weeks of learning the language, I started a channel on YouTube with the name “Learn Welsh with Nicky (www.youtube.com/learnwelshwithnicky)”. Since then my channel has grown and developed – I have more than 350 subscribers and my channel has more than 20,000 views.
The most important thing I’ve done since starting to speak Welsh has been helping to attract and encourage others to try the language, as well as running sessions for brand new beginners for online communities. And in real life, I have set up a brand new website that helps help attract and encourage people and businesses to use the more frequent language. Namely, my new bilingual website http://www.useyourwelsh.com.
What I always say to learners is “Go for it now!” By learning the language, I have met many people who want to be fluent, but haven’t yet gone out and used their Welsh. Talking with other people is the most important thing you can do! Don’t even worry about making mistakes – don’t! That was crucial to my language learning success – I was not frightened at all. I was out in the town trying to find speakers of the language after one week of learning it! You should do the same thing too!
We are all responsible for the language- the future of the language is in our hands. We can choose what happens with the language.
I began to learn Welsh in Tŷ Tawe in Swansea city center when I came back home from Newcastle where I had been working, and I’ve been working at it now for six years. I love the Welsh language and Welsh culture, and I’m always trying to practise, to share ideas and my love of the language, and to learn more. I was very lucky when I won the Prose Medal for Learners in the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny in 2016, with a piece entitled ‘Bridges’.
Over the period 2012 – 2014 I was also studying in Swansea University for a ‘Certificate of Higher Education’ in Creative Writing and Psychotherapy (in English), containing lots of exercises based on ‘Writing the Self’, and I graduated with a distinction in 2014. So I had loads of ideas for topics and creative prompts when I started to create content for Parallel.cymru.
Although the English-language work had already been corrected by tutors (many thanks to Mr Andrew Hubbard and Dr Catriona Ryan for all their help and feedback), I don’t translate my words from English into Welsh, however. By now I write directly in Welsh. It’s an excellent experience thinking and communicating in Welsh. And to be honest, often I prefer how my ‘creative voice’ sounds in Welsh. I love the language! Now I’m experimenting with factual pieces, self-expressive ones, a bit of humour (see Ffred Phantastig and his antics — ha ha ha!), and even a little science fiction.
Then, I sat the A-Level exam for Second-Language Speakers in May 2017, and I got a distinction. Now I’m doing a great deal of immensely enjoyable work for Parallel.cymru, as an author, and helping with editing and translating. I met Neil, manager of the project, during the classes. Of course the whole process involves learning all the time, and I appreciate and enjoy receiving feedback and corrections, as I’m not an expert, and all constructive comments help me to learn and improve, and that’s my attitude to learning and using a language. Having said that, I can go to the pub and meet new people, chatting in Welsh without any problems at all! And without a doubt, the writing and proof-reading and so on have been very useful in this.
I’m self-employed at present. My main drive is enormous curiosity and a desire to explore new things, and to develop, and express creativity. I love expanding my understanding and insight; and helping others to do the same and achieve their goals in whatever they want to do.
I teach maths, science and English to people who are sitting GCSEs and A-Levels, and even some university students. I’ve been working with several students who go to Welsh-language secondary schools. I work face-to-face, with groups, and over the internet. I want to use the Welsh language more and more with students by teaching through the medium of Welsh, and by working as a Welsh language tutor for young people and adults too.
So, you can practise Welsh all the time, from saying ‘shw mae’ in the corner shop, the library, or on the bus, using it in the workplace, through volunteering in the local Menter Iaith, to sharing your experiences or your ideas on Parallel.cymru. There are people here to help you, so don’t be frightened. As I was saying, although I love grammar, I’m always learning something new, and I’m truly grateful to everyone who helps me. The most important thing is that we are all very friendly, passionate about the language, work as a team, encouraging each other whilst promoting the language. Why don’t you give it a go and join us on our journey of discovery into Welsh language and culture? It’s incredibly worthwhile, and full of fun, too!
Writer of Newyddion i Ddysgwyr Newydd and organiser of courses for Welsh learners.
About two years ago, I was looking for something to do. I was speaking with another teacher in the school. He was brought up in North Wales but was originally from Liverpool. “Do you speak Welsh?” he said. I couldn’t answer in Welsh. And then I thought: “How shameful- I can’t answer in Welsh”.
So, I decided to learn Welsh; to start with Say Something in Welsh. The course is great but at the time I was looking for something else. I was learning more so I tried to organise weekends for learners.
Then, I was reading parallel.cymru. I realised that learner need something to help them learn new vocabulary. I sent a message to Neil… “I’d like to try writing the news in Welsh- a chance to practice reading and an opportunity to learn new words”.
And there we are. I still organise weekends and I’m so proud that people have the opportunity to use their Welsh over the weekend. Also the news- I have learnt so much since I started contributing the news.
I hope that you all can feel that you have the opportunity to improve as well.
Linguist and Digital Marketing Officer for Gomer
I started learning Welsh about seven years ago after I went on holidays to north Wales and and heard the language being spoken by the majority of people that I saw on the street. After that I knew that I was going to learn the language, and when the time came to decide which university to go to, I knwe that in Wales I could study the language.
Since then the Welsh language has been more and more important to me and my daily life. I studied every level of Welsh for Adults courses, and after finishing my BA degree in German in Bangor University I went on to study Welsh and Celtic Studies in Cardiff University, where I studied through the medium of Welsh only. After finishing in Cardiff I got a job with Gomer Press in Carmarthen where I’ve worked for a year as a Digital Marketing Officer.
Sometimes it is difficult to use a second language (or, in my case, a third language) in the workplace and in every aspect of professional and personal life. I don’t know every word in Welsh and it has been a challenge for me to practice with all dialects – especially after living in three corners of Wales.
The best advice I can give is- don’t be afraid when you don’t understand something. There’s nothing worse than being on the phone or in a meeting and losing a word or not understanding someone’s accent. But, especially when discussing important things in the office or at university, sometimes you have to put your hand in the air and ask someone to explain.
This is not always a good experience and can feel very awkward, but in the end it will help you to become more confident and fluent in using your Welsh. You’ll be able to practice when you hear different accents and dialects and skills will develop such as words and phrases in their context.
One other thing that I can’t suggest enough is use your Welsh whenever you have an opportunity!